Running: A Meaningful Way to Explore Oberlin

On any given day, rain or shine, you will see people running along the streets of Oberlin. I still remember my first Oberlin run freshman year, cursing at the humidity and swatting away gnats en route to a 20-minute mile average. I am no Usain Bolt. Nonetheless, I started running every other week, which has since turned into four to five times a week.

My recreational running career started at Oberlin, but many other students have been running for years. College second-year Owen Pazderak started running in seventh grade, inspired — and, to a certain extent, forced — by his marathon-running parents. Initially thinking he would quit the sport, he wound up joining his high school cross country team. Though he does not participate on the cross country and track and field teams, he still enjoys running regularly.

“I found a couple of other people that I could run with and explore the area,” he said. “It’s been nice because I feel like I’ve exhausted all of the routes back home. It’s been a great way to catch up with friends and stay in touch through spending time together running every week.”

For students looking for more structure in their running practice, the athletics department offers running and walking skills courses. Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Ray Appenheimer has been teaching a running class at Oberlin for almost 17 years, which morphed into a half marathon course, ATHL 227: Half Marathon Training, in the past four years. He co-teaches the course with Associate Head Cross Country Coach Izzy Alexander.

“The class transitioned into a half marathon class three or four years ago because as we were moving through the class, people were excited about that distance in particular,” Appenheimer said.

 Pazderak took the course last spring and found it an excellent way to stay active.

“Since it was the first time in years that I wasn’t running cross country or track, I needed something to recommit me to running and get me to appreciate it again,” he said. “The half marathon training class helped me do that. Being able to increase my mileage each week, eventually running longer than I ever had before, was such an incredible feeling. Training for the half marathon gave me something to be proud of at a time when I was struggling more than ever to put my best work into classes, and that was meaningful for me.”

Many of the students who take ATHL 227 are in the Conservatory, and were encouraged by their professors to try running to boost their physical and mental health.

“There are so many people from the Conservatory who have been nudged by their professors to get outside and to take care of their bodies,” Appenheimer said. “Oftentimes, the students have a limited background in running, so for them to be able to discover the amazing things that our bodies can do and to be a part of that process is gratifying. Once they realize that they can do it, that sense of accomplishment is everlasting, and I think it transcends to other areas of their lives.”

Many students love building up to the challenge of running the Cleveland Half Marathon together with their classmates, according to Appenheimer.

“It’s a great class for students on campus who want to be outdoors, want to relieve stress, and want to make running a regular part of their lives,” he said. “It gives students a really friendly community and a goal to work toward. We train the entire semester and then run the Cleveland half-marathon and form a tight-knit community throughout the semester.”

Running also provides an excellent opportunity to explore the beautiful trails that Oberlin has to offer. The Arboretum is a popular spot for all runners, and every person has their favorite route to run, whether it is along the Oberlin Bike Path or near North Fields.

In the fall, I ran my first half marathon from Oberlin to Elyria and back, and what I enjoyed the most was seeing new parts of the county and spending quality time in nature. Alexander emphasized that running is a great way to gain a better sense of belonging in Oberlin.

“The amazing thing about running is that you get to learn about an area so much better than if you’re just walking, driving, or biking,” she said. “I’ve always found running as a way to gain a sense of place. I’ll have seniors in that class who never knew that we had a golf course or have never been to certain parts of town. I get excited when they see new things and experience new parts of Oberlin, which is their home away from home for four years.”

For those interested in getting started, Alexander suggests setting small goals for yourself and working your way up to longer runs.

“Start small and go from there,” she suggested. “It’s okay to walk when you’re just starting. Consistency is how you will find growth and improvement. Take in gratitude, the fact that you are even able to be outdoors and be running is incredible. Appreciate that you’re learning and growing into the sport.”